The Bulls and Pistons met in the postseason four straight years in 1988, 1989, 1990, and 1991. Detroit had Chicago’s number despite Jordan’s spectacular play, and it appeared that the Bulls superstar would never get past his archnemesis.
However, Jordan and the Bulls became stronger mentally and physically in the summer of 1990 and finally defeated the Pistons in 1991, setting the stage for one of the most controversial and talked about moments in NBA history.
Michael Jordan and Bulls swept Pistons in 1991 ECF
The Pistons defeated the Bulls in the second round of the 1988 playoffs, the 1989 Eastern Conference Finals, and the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals. Tired of getting beaten up by the “Bad Boys,” Jordan and his teammates hit the weight room in the summer of 1990 and bulked up.
Chicago and Detroit met in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals, with the Bulls easily winning the series in four games. Jordan averaged 29.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 7.0 assists while shooting 53.5% from the field. The Bulls put up 106.8 points per game in the four-game sweep and limited the Pistons to only 95.3 points per contest.
Jordan and Co. won Game 4 by a final score of 115-94. In the previous three years, the Bulls shook hands with the Pistons after they were eliminated to display good sportsmanship. However, Detroit not only didn’t shake Chicago’s hands after losing Game 4 in 1991, but the team also walked off the court before the final buzzer sounded.
The Pistons became a national disgrace for how they acted, but Jordan wasn’t surprised by what they did.
Michael Jordan wasn’t shocked by Pistons walking off the court
After winning his fifth title in 1997, Jordan told SLAM Magazine that the Pistons’ decision to walk off the court in 1991 was a typical move by them. The five-time MVP said the Bulls weren’t surprised at all by what Isiah Thomas and Co. did.
“Typical. We figured the Bad Boys, their whole image. You know, we just felt…well, they didn’t have to shake my hand to know we just whipped they ass,” Jordan said. “Oh, it didn’t bother me, because it didn’t surprise us at all, because of the camaraderie and the rivalry that we had against each other. I shook [Detroit’s] hands when they beat us. I hated to do it, but out of sportsmanship, you have to pay your respects. And if someone beats us, I’ll do the same.”
The Bulls and Pistons never played each other again in the playoffs after 1991. Jordan and Chicago became a dynasty by winning six titles in an eight-year span, while Detroit’s dominance ended, while Thomas finished his career with two championships and one Finals MVP.
Many thought the rivalry between Jordan and Thomas would end in 1991 after the Bulls swept the Pistons in the conference finals. However, their beef became the center of attention once again in the summer of 1992.
Isiah Thomas was left off 1992 USA Dream Team
Thomas, one of the greatest point guards in NBA history, didn’t get selected for the 1992 Dream Team, which was headlined by Jordan. The rumor is that the Bulls icon wouldn’t have played had the Pistons guard been on the team.
Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Scottie Pippen supposedly didn’t want Thomas on the team either. Pistons fans always blame Jordan for Zeke not being on the Dream Team, but other stars on the Olympic squad didn’t like Thomas.
In The Last Dance docuseries, Jordan admitted that he still hates Thomas. However, he did call the Chicago native the second-best point guard in NBA history behind Johnson. Jordan and Thomas will likely never be friends, but they certainly have respect for each other’s basketball career.